On 16 January 2021, India launched the largest vaccination drive under the vision of Honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. Technology has played a crucial role in bringing the idea of universal vaccination closer to reality. The CoWIN platform has been developed to be the digital nerve centre of India’s COVID-19 vaccination process. However, with evolving technology and the country’s large population, some challenges need to be addressed.
To initiate a dialogue on how technologies such as the CoWIN platform can propel the vaccination drive towards the ultimate goal of Universal Vaccination, Center for ICT for Development (CICTD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi and The Dialogue organized a panel discussion on “Strengthening CoWIN Platform towards Universal Vaccination” on 16 June 2021. To set the context for the deliberation, IMPRI’s team began the session by providing a brief overview of the CoWIN platform, its features, challenges and steps taken by the government.
The CoWIN Platform
Dr R S Sharma, CEO, National Health Authority (NHA), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, provided invaluable insights from the perspective of his role as the implementing authority of the CoWIN platform. In times of scarcity and high demand, the search for essential commodities often results in situations of chaos, confusion, and exploitation. For the vaccination process, there could have been a significant gap between supply and demand.
Dr Sharma elaborated that the risk of such situations provides an adequate reason for the government to rely on digital infrastructure despite the significant concern of the digital divide. He emphasized that the pursuit of equality should not mean the abandonment of digital systems; instead, efforts should be undertaken to make the digital systems inclusive. In citing the advantages of a digital system, he emphasized the mobility and portability provided and the role it plays in delivering transparency and removing the asymmetry of information.
In terms of principles that played a role in creating the platform, Dr Sharma elaborated upon how the fundamental guiding principle has been to keep it people-centric. In this regard, the OTP mechanism and the ability to register additional three citizens was implemented. About the digital divide, Dr Sharma highlighted that in any discussion about access, it’s equally important to remember that after the Digital India initiative, there are still substantial numbers of smartphone users. Also, the generation of digital certificates plays a crucial role in alleviating challenges that emerge with ensuring that the appropriate second dose is given at the right time.
Dr Sharma also elaborated upon how important it is to remember that registration on the platform is only one step of the process; there are other moving parts such as hospital onboarding wherein records are updated, vaccinator’s module that deals with verification and finally, the last part which is the generation of the actual certificate.
While the first part can be done on-site as well, the latter three need the support of a digital system. In addressing issues of inclusivity and privacy, he argued that the platform had been made available in regional languages, and it only collects three essential data points. In reference to the problems, he stated that most originate due to human error. However, people invariably blame the platform for issues that are beyond its scope.
He concluded by shedding light on two fundamental principles that guide their work; one is the aim to make the CoWIN platform – the technology backbone that ultimately works under the overall policy guidelines of the government. The other is to work constantly on making the platform citizen-centric. Thus the platform has been working to partner with third-party applications to ensure that citizens have access to better user interfaces while ensuring that a single source of truth exists.
In deliberating upon the way forward, all panelists acknowledged the potential of the CoWIN platform with regards to its scalability and data wherein it can be used for other vaccination processes. In addition, the second wave and its resulting shock have made systems such as the CoWIN platform robust and prepared to tackle challenges that might emerge from the third wave.